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A peek inside the Greenhouse

Driving up to the entrance of the greenhouse is awe-inspiring. Visitors and customers are greeted with a beautiful landscape of flowers and gardens laid out amidst various pieces of furniture, containers and decorations to create a striking visual impact. What is so amazing and not apparent to the casual visitor, is that these gardens are carefully planned from each color, texture and placement in order to benefit the individuals with disabilities who create, maintain and enjoy this masterpiece. The gardens are one of the ways the Niagara Floral Center and Greenhouse promotes socialization, sensory skills, stimulation and pre-vocational skills among the adults with disabilities who attend each week. Through the employment of the principals of professional garden design competition criteria, participants learn about effective design elements such as repetition, focal point, framing the design and flow.

The gardens are filled with a variety of flowers and plants including marigolds, begonias, impatiens, petunias, alyssum, dusty millers, sunflowers, ornamental grasses, geraniums, tropical plants, hibiscus, dill, lavender, basil, chives, catnip and many more. The participants grow the majority of these plants from seed in the greenhouse. Use is made of tropical plants, trees and groundcovers not native to this area, which offer surprises to the gardeners and visitors alike. The plants and flowers are laid out among different pieces of furniture, including a bed, chairs and a dresser to give a shabby chic-look to the garden. This variety in plants, flowers and artistic layout create a colorful and visual scene for the eyes, the herbs fill the nose with tantalizing aromas, and the grasses, leaves, stems and petals have distinctive textures when touched. The addition each year of unusual planters (such as the bird cages, boots and lobster trap) creates discussion and ideas for new projects from the participants. Therefore, the gardens are a source of great sensory and intellectual stimulation for people with disabilities.

An oriental garden was added in 2004 to provide a therapeutic environment for individuals with developmental disabilities through the use of plants, a fountain and a Zen rock garden. The garden provides a serene setting for relaxation, sensory stimulation and interaction with sand and water. The garden was made possible by the generosity of the Hunter Family. This unique garden is the latest addition to the horticultural therapy program that also includes the Kimberly Woodruff Memorial Nature Trail and the M&T Bank Butterfly Garden. The gardens and the nature trail are free and open to the public.

The greenhouse coordinator has created various methods to communicate with the program participants including the use of pictorial symbols to teach and interpret actions and names of items found in the greenhouse, gardens and nature trail.

The nature trail is handicap accessible bringing nature and its environment closer to those who visit it. Plantings, signage and wildlife combine to stimulate the senses of sight, smell, touch and hearing. The greenhouse and the gardens are also completely wheelchair accessible. There are handrails, paved trails and paths, and sitting arrangements such as a gazebo, benches and swings throughout the gardens and nature trail. Beds have been created with different levels of pots and greenery and the various settings have different heights and depths to accommodate the capabilities of those working on the gardens.

In addition to plants and flowers, vegetables are grown by individuals involved the horticulture therapy program. The vegetables are used in the Tops Country Kitchen to create fresh healthy meals that are shared with other program participants and employees.

Adaptive equipment is also utilized, including a strap for the arm to enable someone to hold a hose as well as different nozzles. Each individual participating in the program can take part in watering and keeping the gardens maintained and neat. The work also enhances motor skills as individuals reach and stretch to water such items as the tall pipes filled with annuals and the hanging baskets, or raking the stones in the Zen garden. Satisfaction from their work can be seen on the faces of these individuals as they are complimented on their impressive gardens.

Aside from sensual stimulation, the gardens are a great source of pride and accomplishment. People of all abilities and ages are able to contribute their talents to this project.

Overall, the use of horticulture therapy through the Niagara Floral Center and Greenhouse at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara has recorded changes in the participants by demonstrating increased desire and ability to communicate, decreased behavioral challenges, and increased wellness through exercise and growth of self-esteem. Most importantly, the program’s participants were given the freedom to make choices and give their input when creating the gardens, which makes their beauty even more remarkable. Blooming in these gardens are not only vibrant flowers and plants, but also the opportunity for independence, productivity and inclusion for people with disabilities.

Individuals enter the horticulture trade with varying disabilities while sharing a common interest and enthusiasm for working with plants and flowers. In this supportive environment, individuals acquire motor skill enhancement and pre-vocational skills. From preparing seed beds to filling orders for floral arrangements, they learn about the horticulture field while gaining a sense of accomplishment with visible results. It is the individuals themselves who nurture, plant and create the items which in turn are sold to the public.